It’s been a week since the news of Bea Arthur’s death broke, and I still can’t help but feel a little sad each time I catch a “Golden Girls” rerun.  I know Bea had a long stage career and first gained fame in “Maude,” but to me, and so many of my generation, she’ll always be Dorothy Zbornak.

“Golden Girls” premiered in September 1985, or just after my third birthday.  I literally can’t remember a time when it wasn’t on the air.  I remember watching the first-run episodes on Saturday nights in elementary school, WB reruns in middle school, Lifetime reruns in high school and college, Hallmark reruns in grad school…the show has been practically inescapable  for the almost 20 years its been off the air.

While Rose, Blanche and Sophia were all wonderfully written, wonderfully acted characters, for those of us who grew up feeling awkward, different or insecure, Dorothy was the role model.  Despite her flaws, real and imagined, she possessed intelligence, humor and heart.  She somehow survived a life of wrong turns, false starts and road blocks, blossoming into a capable adult of conviction and compassion.  To the unsteady or unsure, Dorothy was a very real testament to life after disillusionment, which is itself a testament to the real-life woman who brought her to life.

That woman, it should also be noted, supported civil rights for gays and lesbians long before it was fashionable, and until the end of her life.

So, as cliche as it may be to say, thank you, Bea, for being a friend – both on-screen and off.

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